The Sharks got the wrong first-round opponent. Such is the finding of my unofficial twitterstraw poll, conducted during the Sharks regular-season finale. Roughly 75 percent of respondents and yes,there were more than four believed San Josewas better off against Vancouver than St. Louis. Which is interesting, given that the Canuckssummarily bounced San Josefrom the playoffs last season. Thenagain, maybe thats the rationale it certainly was Jamie Bakers on SharksPregame Live. A little extra motivationnever hurts come playoff time.No matter, much to Bakes and my tweeps chagrin, itsSharks-Blues in round one. On thesurface, Armageddon-in-waiting Team Teal.St. Louiswon all four regular-season meetings, allowing a TOTAL of three goals in theprocess. Yikes.There is a school of thought that suggests past performanceis not necessarily an indicator of future results. Im sure I saw that in the fine print of afinancial management brochure. Or in thecast bios for Celebrity Apprentice.Regardless, that school of thought has pretty much failed when appliedto the Sharks. Two seasons ago, San Jose got blitzed by Chicago during the regular season, then sweptby the Blackhawks in the playoffs. Lastyear, Vancouverowned the Sharks during the regular-season, and you know what happened afterthat. So why should we expect thisgo-round to be any different?Many simply dont.They say Blues in five games.They say St. Louisis too fast, too deep, too stingy, too well-coached, too darn frustrating forthe Sharks to deal with. And they saythat because, well, thats exactly what they saw during the four meetings thisseason.I wish I could argue with that logic, but I cant. I saw the Chicago result coming. I saw the Vancouver result coming. And I have long feared that a St. Louis pairing wouldbe pretty much a disaster. Arguably theworst possible matchup in the entire Western Conference. But then theres this, the one glimmer of hope I can offerto fans (and to my admittedly skeptical self): the Sharks are a different team nowthan the one which last faced St. Louis on March 3rd. Thatteam was in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Thatteam, in fact, lost an incredible 11 out of 13, going 5-34 (14.7) onthe power play during that stretch. That team didnt scoreas many as four goals for 20 straight games.That team managed justone regulation road win in a full months time. Contrast that with the new and improved (really, was thereany other way to go?) version. Fourstraight wins and seven of nine to end the season including gutty,character-revealing road triumphs at Dallas and Los Angeles. Six for the last 20 (30) on the powerplay. Wins over Boston,Detroit, Nashville,Phoenix, and L.A. (twice) in the final three weeks. That said, the Sharks will have to play that well and thensome to win this series. Joe Pavelskiwill have to remain scorching hot. LoganCouture will have to get scorchinghot. Patrick Marleau will have to hitsomebody. And yes, score. (Did I mention San Jose is 18-3-3 this season when Marleaulights the lamp?) TheWinick-Wingels-Desjardins line will have to keep buzzing around in freneticfashion. Marc-Edouard Vlasic will haveto play like the all-star he resembled in the seasons first half. Brent Burns will have to become the force healmost is. Antti Niemi will have to keeppace with the Blues outstanding goalie duo.Put simply, every man will have to bring the energy, the desperation,and (perhaps most importantly against this particular opponent) theattention-to-detail that brought the Sharks back from late-season life supportand got them to within one victory of a division title.Embrace the underdog role, boys. Unfamiliar territory to be sure, but maybe itwill suit you. Jamie Baker thinksso. And I am sure at least 25 of mytweeps agree.
ST. PAUL – On paper, Timo Meier’s production after he was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda on Feb. 16 was down. The former first-round pick had just six points (3g, 3a) in 14 games, and was scoreless in his last five, a far cry from what he was doing there earlier in the season and way off his numbers in juniors.
But at just 20 years old, Meier is still in the learning phase of his professional career. And as impressive as the Barracuda have been this season, they’re still playing in a developmental league, first and foremost. Meier got a chance to work on some of the aspects of his game he needed to work on.
“It was obviously hard going back,” said Meier, who has three goals and two assists in 28 games, before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Sometimes you go back there and you try too much, but they told me to work on some things in my game, and I tried to do that.
“For me, going down there it was all about learning stuff on the ice, off the ice. … It’s my first year [in pro hockey], so as a young guy you want to learn and listen to the coaches, too. Just get better.”
Coach Pete DeBoer went into pretty good detail on what the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft needed to do with the Barracuda, and what he needs to show now that he’s back in the NHL.
“I think with a lot of big, talented young guys, they have to realize when they can make an extra play with the puck and when they have to chip it in,” DeBoer said. “They’re so used to dominating at the levels they’ve been at for so long, that [it’s] easier said than done. It’s habits you have to learn, and you don’t learn unless you’re doing them on a consistent basis.”
Meier’s shot selection, too, is something that needed some improvement, according to the coach. While the power winger might be generating plenty of shot attempts, no doubt pleasing the advanced stats crowd, there’s more to being an effective forward than running up numbers on the Excel spreadsheets.
“You don’t want to shoot [just] to shoot up here, or to just get shots on net. You’re not scoring on NHL goalies like you are on junior goalies from 30 or 40 feet out,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to pick your spots. Sometimes you have to look for a better play than a shot.”
Meier said: “It’s a really tough league. As a young guy coming in, sometimes you’ve got to stay patient, too, try not [to do] too much. … Sometimes I tried [to do] a little too much.”
Meier has been in the Sharks’ lineup for each of the last two games. He started on the fourth line before getting bumped up to Tomas Hertl’s third line on Monday in Dallas, and returned to the fourth line with Chris Tierney and Micheal Haley for Tuesday’s tilt in Minnesota. He is scoreless with two shots on goal over those two games.
He could be a temporary fill in for Jannik Hansen, who remains out with an upper body injury but could potentially return before the end of the road trip this weekend. Or, perhaps Meier does enough to stick around for the stretch run and the playoffs. There would seem to be an opportunity to push someone else out of the lineup, as the Sharks’ depth scoring has been a season-long problem.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, getting that chance again later on in the season,” Meier said. “I want to put it all on the ice, leave it all out there and just make the best out of every shift I get. Play my game, play within my strengths, [do] the things that got me here, and I’m sure I’ll be successful like that.”
ST. PAUL – The losing streak endures, as the Sharks dropped their fourth straight, 3-2 in Minnesota on Tuesday night. A quick start from the home team, and an even quicker response after the Sharks tied it up late in the second keyed the Wild win. Let’s dig a little deeper, though, with our three takeaways…
1 – Wild come out flying
The Sharks’ general lack of panic after their latest loss, as we touched on in the recap, surely had something to do with the circumstances. Minnesota had an extra day of rest while the Sharks were on their second of a back-to-back, with travel. San Jose was also capping off a stretch of seven games in just 11 days (I believe we’ve mentioned here before just how monumentally foolish this year’s NHL schedule is).
Frankly, the start was predictable. Minnesota was a ticked off team having lost five straight, and even though it had dropped is previous game in Winnipeg, 5-4, it erased a 4-0 deficit in that one only to lose it late. Surely that was a sign that the Wild were ready to break through in the win column.
Pete DeBoer said the Sharks “expected” an early push from Minnesota.
“They’ve been sitting here waiting, they’re desperate, they’re fresh, they’re healthy. We’re coming in on a back-to-back. We knew the first period would be tough. It wasn’t pretty, but we escaped only down 1-0 and I thought from that point on we started to fight back a little bit. Did some good things, just too little too late.”
The Sharks were competitive over the final two periods, finally getting their first goal in more than 138 minutes of game play to make it 1-1 (it was originally credited to David Schlemko, but has since been changed to Patrick Marleau). At that point, though, it was Minnesota’s turn to respond. It did, and that was the game.
2 – Third line woes
We touched on the Sharks’ lack of secondary scorers yesterday, and it was on full display against the Wild again Tuesday night as the third line of Tomas Hertl, Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker failed to do anything productive. Hertl had one decent chance in the first period from the slot that Devan Dubnyk turned away, but was later too soft and too slow on Minnesota’s third goal, as Zach Parise outhustled and outmuscled him before dishing to Charlie Coyle.
Donskoi finished with two shots, and didn’t even get one off on a second period breakaway. Boedker had no shots, and just one attempt.
Hertl now has no points in his last 10 games, and Donskoi hasn’t found the scoresheet, either, in nine games since returning from an upper body injury.
Prior to Tuesday night’s game, DeBoer indicated it’s taking some time for both players to get up to speed after being out. Hertl, of course, missed two months with his latest right knee injury.
“You come back, there’s a little bit of adrenaline, you’re on a high, and the reality hits that you missed some time and the league is moving at a really fast pace,” DeBoer said. “Just got to play through it and keep battling.”
Hertl said: “I for sure expect [more] of myself. … I try to stay with my game, try and make plays, be strong on the puck, make my linemates better. I need to just keep working all over [in the] D-zone, O-zone, and even power play.”
3 – Dealing without Vlasic
Marc-Edouard Vlasic was the second Sharks player in two nights to be sidelined by a flu bug, so Schlemko was bumped up to replace him paired with Justin Braun, while Dylan DeMelo and Brenden Dillon comprised the third pair.
Schlemko had a nice game, even if he is no longer getting credit for his third goal of the season. He finished with one assist, a plus-one rating, three shot attempts and three blocks.
“You can’t really replace a guy like [Vlasic],” he said. “He’s one of the best defensive D in the league. Just trying to keep it simple. We switched up the partners and spread out the ice time pretty well. Not the start we wanted, but after the first I thought we played pretty well. Played hard.”
DeBoer said: “We've got a little bit of a flu going through. Tierney was out yesterday with it, [Vlasic] got it today. Hopefully, that’s the end of it.”